The Misinformation Ecosystem: A Post-Truth Heterotopia
Mackintosh School of Architecture.
Dec. 26, 2018
A new reality is constructed within a self-regarding loop of hedonistic splendour. This hierarchal pleasure garden is a gift from the new digital economy to a society that has redistributed its identity to the digital. It defines a world that is no longer solely understood through systems founded on human dimensions, visions and patterns of occupation but through the heterotopia of cyberspace; a landscape absent of order where users are in a state of deviation from the truth. Masquerading as a landscape of desire, this counterfeit ecosystem mines the populace for what is now its most valuable asset; data.
What prompted the project?
The thesis topic was chosen to challenge issues that pervade modern culture on a global scale, bearing both social and political implications. It addresses the crisis of the post-truth era, which is dominated by surveillance capitalism. The motivation was born from an investigation into how cyberspace has played a pivotal role in recent political shifts. It has become a landscape that totally mismanages individualism- playing host to algorithmically combined social bubbles that feed misconceptions, exacerbating layers of fake news, propaganda and populist rhetoric.
Using architectural tools I presented a satirical commentary that imagined the extent of the redistribution of identity across physical and digital dimensions, playing with themes such as authenticity, isolation, narcissism and deviancy.
What defined the language of representation though which you articulate the speculation?
The retrospective representation of the project references the degenerative aspect of our obsessions with status and image. Victorian pleasure gardens, theme parks and 20th century industrial complexes informed a formal yet sculptural language; presenting a network of control, hierarchy and boundaries.
It represents an alternative reality that embraces notions of the other, limits access and presents contradictions of illusions and imagination. I always imagined the project as a spatialized internet; an idea born from the faceless, post-human architecture of data centres. The drawings are populated with characters that shift the focal points of the image. Often the architecture will appear to act secondary to the distractions of the idols that populate these images. However it is the formal, spatial arrangement of the architecture that tells the story of the heterotopia, acting as a filter or portal to a reflection of our own identities. Apparently the result is a 21st century pleasure garden incubated by excess heat from server farms.
What role does colour play?
The drawings had to epitomise the anachronistic language of the project. The lack of colour in the drawings was a methodology partly developed from a study of the aesthetic practices of two very similar artists; Karl Blossfeldt and Bernd & Hilla Becher. Their work is of patient construction that feels the weight of the subject, holding it in time without comment or sentiment. ‘Anonymous Sculptures’ reminded me of the nomadic nature of industrial landscapes before they inevitably fall victim to the ravages of time and progress; landscapes that sustain such a comparatively short life paling in comparison to more classical or sacred forms of architecture. Both artists represent their lifeless subjects incased in time, removed from context either physically – in the case of Blossfeldt – or socially – in the case of the Bechers. The compositional exactitude and monochromatic nature of my final drawings aims to communicate a calculated timelessness that somehow gazes retrospectively into an alternate reality.
How do silhouettes like those of Kim Kardashian inform the speculation and talk about this contemporary condition of shared data?
Kim Kardashian serves as a reinterpretation of a contemporary monument. She personally embodies much of what I seek to criticise about the current condition of over-shared yet under-refined information; an era distracted by narcissistic digital hedonism. Flying pigs, fruit conveyor belts, and celebrities become the architecture of post-truth. These conspicuous motifs are necessary to provide an introduction to the theme of the commentary. They headline as subjects of distraction, obsession and apathy that provide the foundation for discourse and challenge the meaning of visualisation in architectural education.
What is your take on the contemporary architecture of data centres?
The data centre is the initial focus of the thesis. It is simultaneously a space we all occupy, but can never enter, yet it is the largest cultural landscape in human history. This spatialised internet is absent of any historical typology, it confuses anonymity with a sense of security, reinforcing the falsehood of the internet’s ‘omnipresence’. I was fascinated by the banal and anonymous, yet gargantuan nature of their architecture, effectively acting as hyper-scale industrial vaults that consume vast amounts of global energy. The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector including data centres generates up to 2% of the global CO2 emissions, a number on par to the aviation sector contribution, and data centres are estimated to have the fastest growing carbon footprint from across the whole ICT sector.* Out of this awareness, the project became a bipartite critique of both sociological and ecological uses and abuses of data.
*Maria Avgerinou, Paolo Bertoldi and Luca Castellazzi * European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC)
How and to what extent has this new era influenced and effected the profession of the architect?
Instagram has now replaced Archigram. High frequency content feeds prejudices and misconceptions with cosseting confirmations of whatever the viewer selects for their bespoke truth. Our constant connection to images means we now prefer inhabiting representations of our world. This not only eliminates the scrutiny of worthy critique but also propagates click-bait and confrontation. I was constantly reminded throughout the project how much the architectural profession relies on representation, as this is essentially how we communicate before construction; appealing to emotion and personal belief to manipulate or manage a vision for reality.
Is this condition sustainable?
Combined with the advancements in data mining, algorithmic and analytical capabilities of online platforms, the stability of functional democracies is now threatened. Surveillance capitalism now prioritises data as its most valuable resource- users are products to be invested in through the vending behavioural data. Targeted advertising and sponsored propaganda is now commonplace, providing seamless technological tools for manipulating perception and falsifying reality. This condition becomes much less sustainable as technology progresses through machine learning, AI and augmented/virtual reality. The ease of manipulating information threatens the fundamentals of awareness- photographic imagery plays a more significant role as it is considered synonymous with evidence, however it can too easily be rebranded with ambiguous context- such as a headline designed to increase profitability through unrefined, digestible content, breeding a political culture that incentivises a response of apathy.